Alumni profile: Dave McConnell
By Tanya Bricking Leach
Dave McConnell ’84: Building on Camaraderie and Community
Back in his high school days, when Dave McConnell ’84 played a preacher in the musical version of “Tom Sawyer,” he wasn’t sure what he wanted to become.
“I only figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was in my 50s,” says McConnell, 56, who grew up with The Summit practically in his backyard.
Now a married father of three and distillery owner nearly 1,000 miles away in Maine, McConnell reflects on how he ended up where he is. He went from being a high school scholar and athlete to having a law career and then opening a craft rum distillery in Portland, Maine.
A chance to chase his passion
He credits The Summit for giving him opportunities to find his passion.
“It was and is a relatively small school,” he says, “and it gave me a chance to try a lot of things that I probably wouldn't have, necessarily, at a larger place.”
Those things included playing football and being in theater. He went on to play football and rugby at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire before going on to law school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
He remembers influential teachers at The Summit who inspired him — like Mr. Bruce Bowden, who wrote the Tom Sawyer musical, and Mrs. Carole Foltz, who taught English.
“I had some wonderful teachers,” McConnell says. “They really introduced me to the power of words.”
That translated into him practicing law. And it also kept him grounded. His legal career shifted to doing intellectual property and trademark work. He worked with craft breweries and developed an interest in spirits.
After his youngest child went off to college, McConnell decided to try something new. In 2018, he and a friend co-founded Three of Strong Spirits, a craft rum distillery in Portland, Maine. The name comes from an old rum punch recipe and is a place that likes to bring people together.
A sense of community and service
McConnell says it reminds him of some of the intangible character traits he learned at The Summit.
“One is a real is a strong sense of community,” he says. “The other piece that stuck with me is the importance of service to others.”
He finds ways to give back through pro bono work and serving on various boards and committees.
Stay open to opportunity
He also keeps in touch with friends he formed at The Summit and comes back to visit his 90-year-old mother, Lois (Crowe) Jones ’50, who still lives in Cincinnati.
His advice to young people is to “stay open to opportunity.”
“Even if what you're doing in the moment feels like it's not something you want to do this for the rest of your life, there’s still value that you can get from those experiences,” he says. “You can take that and build on it for the next thing.”
His own life has not come with the trajectory he would have anticipated.
“But in a weird kind of way, each of the things I've done along the way helped to build on what came next.”